CFR.org just posted a First Take that I did on President Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly this morning. The speech was fairly predictable, and it was undoubtedly aimed as much at American voters as it was to the delegates in the auditorium. Obama denounced the recent wave of attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities, defended freedom of speech, called for the condemnation of hatred and intolerance directed at any religion, and warned yet again of the dangers that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose.
One topic that Obama discussed at length that I didn’t mention in my CFR.org piece was Syria. The president denounced a “dictator who massacres his people” and pledged to “stand with those Syrians who believe in a different vision” for their country. But to those hoping—or fearing—that Obama would do more to stop “a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings,” he offered nothing new. Washington will impose sanctions and threaten those who commit war crimes with prosecution. U.S. military intervention or support, however, is not in the cards.
In all, Obama gave just the sort of speech one would expect just six weeks before Election Day in a race that looks headed for the wire and with Republicans intensifying their criticisms of his foreign policy. Diplomats from around the world may have been in the auditorium with Obama, but his real audience was American voters. And his message to them was: I stand up for American interests and values, and I am not about to plunge U.S. troops into yet another messy conflict in the Middle East.
(P.S. While President Obama was speaking to UN delegates in Turtle Bay, Mitt Romney was speaking in Midtown Manhattan at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting. I haven’t had a chance to read the governor’s speech in its entirety yet, but its main point seems to be that more conditions should be attached to foreign aid. As previous presidents have discovered, that is easier said than done, especially when it comes to countries that Washington wants something from. Just think back three years to the flap in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill.)